China’s New High-Speed Trains

CRH locomotive-an example of Chinas new high-speed trains

In the little over a year and a half that we have been living here, China has been in the process of overhauling its train system, to create a modern state-of-the-art high-tech rail network, with trains that are capable of traveling 350 kilometers per hour (217 miles per hour).  They call this system CRH, which stands for China Railway High-speed.

The speed monitor in each car

To do this they have built all new raised concrete rail lines.  The tracks are raised to keep them straight and level.  On these lines they use concrete railroad ties to support the steel rails.  The ride is smooth with no “clickety-clack.”

Building the raised high-speed tracks

China now has over 8,000 km (5000 miles) of high-speed rail lines, with plans to add another 17,000 km (11, 000 miles).  It is said that China has more miles of high-speed rail lines than the rest of the world combined.

Where is the money coming from for this project?  It comes from China’s economic stimulus package, which was part of China’s reaction to the downturn in 2008.

The locomotives are electric, with one at each end of the train, and often two in the middle (facing each other)and about 18 passenger cars.  Each car holds about 100 passengers.

Locomotive up close

The locomotives themselves are passenger cars.  Who makes these shiny new trains?  They are made in China under the guidance of Canadian manufacturer Bombardier (also the makers of Ski-Dos!).  Some others are made here by German maker Siemens, and some are made by Japanese manufacturer Kawasaki (although the Chinese still really do not like the Japanese since WWII, and have protested about using Japanese trains!).  As you can see, these locomotives look very futuristic,  like rocket-ships.  We won’t tell you what Barbara thinks they look like!

A train arriving in Suzhou.

We have ridden on the Nanjing to Shanghai line often, going from Suzhou to Shanghai and back. The trains are all new, except for the “sleeper” car trains.  We have not taken a “sleeper” train yet.  As they improve the rail lines the time it takes to get from place to place becomes less and less.  Our first trips to Shanghai were in new trains on the old lines and the trip took about 45 minutes to go 70 kilometers.  The new high-speed lines opened last summer, so now the trip takes 20-25 minutes to go the same distance.

Second-class citizens (Us, too!)

 The trains have three classes of tickets:  first-class, second-class, and third-class.  First-class has roomy seats-4 to a row.  Second-class is a little less roomy-5 seats to a row.  Third-class is standing room, or if a seat is unoccupied, you sit there, until a ticketed seat-holder shows up!  We get second-class seats, as they are quite adequate.

First-class seating

The ticket prices have gone up with the improved speed and service.  Our old first-class tickets for Suzhou to Shanghai were 36 RMB(about $5).  The current first-class tickets run about 56 RMB (about $8).

2nd-class ticket-Suzhou to Shanghai

Our current second class tickets run 46 RMB (about $6.50).  So, there was a significant increase with the added speed.  The Chinese seem to accept it, as most trains are still full.  We can buy tickets at our local Neighborhood Center for the price plus a 5 RMB service charge, or we can buy them at the station with no service charge. You can buy them up to 5 days in advance, or during holiday periods 10 days in advance.  As it’s China, some trains get sold out quickly, especially during holidays, as going home and being with family is very important here.  The number of riders since they started rebuilding the old rails to high-speed rail in early 2007 has been over 600 million riders, or about 116 million riders/year.  Compare this to Amtrak, which had 27 million riders last year.  Granted there are a lot more Chinese, and most don’t own cars, so they will use the train!

Train stewardess

These new trains have their own “stewardesses,” in smart-looking uniforms.  There is a recorded voice that tells you in Chinese and English which train you are on, and at the end of the trip thanks you.  We almost expect them to say, “Thank you for flying CRH!”

Suzhous old railway station

Along with the improved rail lines and trains, the Chinese have been building new modern railway stations to handle these space-age trains.  The old station in Suzhou has been replaced with a sparkling new station, that resembles an airport terminal.  Taxis and cars dropping passengers off drive up to the top level, or “departures.”

Suzhous new railway station

Even Shanghai’s railway station was redone since we arrived here with new waiting rooms and platforms.

Shanghai Railway Station


China has in Shanghai the Maglev train, which uses magnetic levitation to lift the train above the rails, so there is less resistance from having no wheels.  It rides smoother and at higher speeds.  The Maglev only runs from Pudong Airport to the outskirts of Shanghai, about 30 km.  As it can go 431 km/h (or 268 mph), this only takes about 7 minutes!  It is the fastest high-speed train in regular use in the world, even faster than the TGV in France (Wikipedia)!  There were plans to extend the Maglev to Hangzhou, but as the German manufacturer would not share the technology with China, they opted for the high-speed rail as it was still quite fast, and much less expensive.  The Maglev originally cost over 1 billion dollars to build, with the Germans sharing the cost, as they wanted to promote their product.  There was also concern from Chinese people about electro-magnetic radiation from the train, so the Maglev has not been extended.

We, of course, say to one another, every time we ride the train, “The US needs to be doing this with its train system!”  If the US did do this, it would improve our rusting infrastructure, create jobs, and give people some pride in our country.  It also would cut down on people’s use of cars and dependence on fossil fuels.  It’s time we did something like this at home!  We could bring back the song, “I Been Workin’ on the Railroad,” and teach it to a new generation!  We should write to Obama about this!


4 thoughts on “China’s New High-Speed Trains

  1. Hope to be on the Nanjing-Shanghai line ourselves in the next week or so. We did the Beijing-Tianjin high speed line when we were here in ’08. You’re right that this system should come to the US, especially since it cuts down on much more energy-inefficient air travel, not to mention that you begin and end your journey right in the city center rather than out in the airport boondocks.

    • We agree! The other thing we didn’t mention is all of these lines connect with the subways in the cities…which is fantastic! Thanks for commenting!

  2. Actually I don’t see the high speed trains between shanghai and Suzhou get much faster, but much more expensive, like twice than before.

    • True, they are more expensive than they were. We heard they may lower the speed and price, as people are not using the trains because they are too expensive!

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